The leaders of Salisbury Vision backed away from a confrontation.

Minutes into Monday’s public meeting, we learned that SV had asked the area board to decide what to do about the Market Place, which is about the first sensible idea they’d had. Moments later it was agreed to withdraw the current planning application.

So we now have a blank sheet, and more time to consider what we really, really want.

Some of the interventions from the floor seemed a bit pointless, especially the rather patronising suggestion that while a show of hands was “fun” it was statistically meaningless in the context of a population of 41k. If the hundred or so concerned citizens putting up their hands were a tiny proportion of the general public, how many decimal places had those who’d tried to impose the Vision plan rate?

It wasn’t clear how we were expected to respond to a parish councillor’s impassioned remarks about having inherited something that everyone had agreed, and a rejection delaying progress “by decades”.

My own reaction was: so what? Money’s tight and getting tighter, and blowing cash on an unnecessary tarting-up exercise (which could perfectly well be postponed for two or three years) seems to me to be totally unnecessary.

The most important decisions were the overwhelming votes in favour of a two-square design (keeping the trees separating the Guildhall square from the market square), and to leave the war memorial untouched. If repeated in the Wiltshire Council survey, those decisions will mean going back to the drawing-board.

Presumably SV will also ponder the lessons to be learned from this whole sorry episode.

First among those is the need to consult properly. Consultation doesn’t mean sending out postcards or newsletters or asking a few business people what they think. It means using the combined power of the Journal and Spire FM to hold a proper public debate.

The next battle will be over SV’s Central Car Park proposals – which currently involve replacing car-parking space with housing and supermarkets.

Personally I’d prefer to see some of that land used to provide the 100-bedroom hotel we so desperately need. Others will disagree, and there’s a lot to be said on both sides.

But this time, please, please can we have a proper democratic debate, and not yet another attempt by those who think they know better to impose their own preferred solution?

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